We're pleased to welcome author Sarah Fine to Heroes and Heartbreakers. Sarah's Sanctum is the first book in her Guards of the Shadowlands series, and features a seventeen year-old heroine who will enter Hell itself to save her friend. Today Sarah is here to talk about how to make a great YA hero. Thanks, Sarah!
In all genres, but especially those oriented toward action, successful stories have to avoid the implausibility trap. Shy, soft girls can’t use blackbelt moves to get themselves out of trouble. A kid without a serious hacker rep can’t pull an elegant solution to some high tech problem out of his…ear. In other words, there has to be some smooth integration of a character’s background into the story so that readers can be comfortable with what’s happening.
There are a few ways this can be accomplished:
Born with it. Some characters have special powers, like Glory in Deviants by Maureen McGowan, or Juliette in Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi. Often, these characters are unable to control their gifts initially (and they often believe them to be curses). Sometimes, they only discover or trigger the ability in the book (as with Ellie in Angelfire by Courtney Allison Moulton or Clary in City of Bones by Cassandra Clare). Whenever they become aware of it, though, the core power is there and is simply part of them. So when they’re pushed to the brink, readers buy that these characters can pull out that can o’ whoopass and go to town.
Trained from birth (or soon thereafter). Examples include Rose in Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead, and Deuce, the main character of Enclave by Ann Aguirre. Deuce has trained her whole life to be a Huntress, to protect and provide food for her people. When she and her partner get attacked by the ravenous Freaks, we’re not surprised that she wields her knife with skill. The role-trained characters nearly always hone their skills throughout the story, but when it starts, they’ve already got some basic level of skill because they’ve been at it for a while.
Trained by life. Prominent examples of this would be Katniss in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and Saba in Blood Red Road by Moira Young. This would also be where my character Lela falls. These characters do have skills that they’ve picked up, usually as the result of rough lives geared toward survival—like Katniss’s famous prowess with her bow. Still, they aren’t going to be as savvy or confident as those with powers or who’ve been trained for a specific purpose, especially when they’re first faced with a new challenge that pulls them out of their areas of comfort. But they bring street smarts and good instincts to the game, and as readers we can accept the advantages that kind of education and experience confers on them.
Trained in the plot. A lot of YAs, especially series-starters, include training for the main characters as part of the plot. In Divergent by Veronica Roth, a lot of the story is devoted to the initiation and training of Tris, the heroine. As with other stories that do this well, Divergent shows Tris’s determination and slow progression, along with the pain it causes and the time it takes. Without a realistic process like that, we just wouldn’t be able to accept when one of these previously weak or meek characters throws down in a crucial moment. And because it’s usually such a new skill, we’d expect the character to falter a bit before becoming a smooth and deadly pro. Often, “trained in the plot” is added to a pre-existing skill due to one of the three other sources I mentioned above. In other words, this one can either stand on its own or be used to enhance something that’s already there.
Regardless of how it’s managed, good stories weave a solid foundation for whatever antics the characters get up to. It’s how the promise to readers is fulfilled. We want a reason to come along for the ride—and not have our intelligence insulted.
What are some good examples of heroines or heroes who accomplish wild, dangerous things without falling victim to the implausibility trap?
Sarah Fine was born on the West Coast, raised in the Midwest, and is now firmly entrenched on the East Coast, where she lives with her husband and two children. When she's not writing, she's working as a child psychologist. No, she is not psychoanalyzing you right now. SANCTUM is her first novel. She also writes with Walter Jury under the name S.E. Fine, and their YA sci-fi thriller, SCAN, comes out in fall 2013.
Visit her website at: http://sarahfinebooks.com/